With nearly 50,000 new cases diagnosed annually, pancreatic cancer is not necessarily the best-known form of the disease. It is, however, among the deadliest. The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer tends to be less than 5 percent, greatly trailing other cancers which are now considered mostly “curable.”
There are a number of reasons why pancreatic cancer is called the “silent killer,” not the least of which is the fact the disease is incredibly difficult to detect. Since the pancreas is located deep inside the body, detecting early tumors during routine health examinations is problematic. This is complicated by the fact that this particular cancer tends to present with no symptoms until the disease has spread to other organs. There is also a lack of a screening test that is reliable for determining risk or finding this cancer in its earliest forms.
Those who are at increased risk for pancreatic cancer due to family history of the disease, for example, may undergo genetic testing to determine risk. There are also tests, such as an endoscopic ultrasound, that can help detect tumors in their early forms. This test, however, is generally only performed on this with a strong family history of the disease or someone who is suspected to already have pancreatic cancer. Researchers are working to develop better screening and early detection tests, but breakthroughs have yet to be made.
At this point, the best advice for those concerned about pancreatic cancer is to know their risks and undergo testing if they happen to be high. Family history, of course, is one of the major factors. Issues such as smoking and obesity may also play a role. Other risk factors include age, ethnicity and gender.
Pancreatic cancer is the silent killer for a host of reasons. Those who are concerned about this disease or believe they may be at higher risk are urged to talk with their health care providers for advice.